CLEMSON — Last year's memory isn't a good one.
During a season where D.J. Uiagalelei and his receivers couldn't find each other, the quarterback's misses at North Carolina State were hard to forget. There was a quick pass to tight end Davis Allen that was tipped, fluttering in the air and intercepted. And his deep throws to Justyn Ross in overtime, which fell to the ground and invited Wolfpack fans to storm the field in victory.
"It definitely did suck losing," Uiagalelei said. "I hate losing."
Running back Will Shipley, likewise, has strong feelings. He reflected on the possibility of a wet, muddy game with No. 10 North Carolina State at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 in Memorial Stadium.
He said, without hesitation, "I'm so friggin' pumped."
"This football team is so ready to go. I'm so ready to go," Shipley said. "This is one I've had circled since last year."
Last year wasn't good. But this year, the Wolfpack come to Death Valley. This year, Clemson rides some momentum after pulling out a double-overtime win at Wake Forest.
"Just kind of going into it (in 2021), I felt like we were not fully prepared, mentally, physically. This year, it's different," Shipley said. "We're going into it and giving ourselves the best hand to do our thing."
Do the Tigers right last year's wrongs in a grudge match with the Wolfpack? Here are four things to watch as No. 5 Clemson attempts to stay unbeaten.
D.J.'s next step
Each game, Clemson's junior quarterback has built on the last. Three straight games of 200-plus yards led into a 371-yard, five-touchdown day at Wake Forest.
Now, it's time for Uiagalelei to take another step. While the Demon Deacons are tied for 72nd nationally in total defense, N.C. State sits at No. 13. Opponents have scored six touchdowns in four games, and the Wolfpack have surrendered just under 180 yards per game through the air.
This is a much stiffer test, and the Big Cinco knows fate can turn on a dime. He quotes Dabo Swinney, who likes to say, "It's not too far from the penthouse to the outhouse."
"It doesn't matter how well I'm doing. I have one bad game, I'll be right back in there in the outhouse," Uiagalelei said. "Just want to be able to handle success well, and handle adversity well, and stay level-headed."
Clemson needed everything Uiagalelei had to win at Wake Forest. But even if yards aren't as plentiful versus the Wolfpack, he has to continue to be smart and protect the football. So far, Uiagalelei has 10 touchdowns and one interception in 2022.
Establishing the run
Swinney was asked multiple times about the effect rain and strong winds may have on this game. Of course, if there is a 50-mile-per-hour crosswind, he's not airing it out or kicking 50-yard field goals.
The most recent projections for the remnants of Hurricane Ian have the storm tracking eastward, which may spare Clemson the worst possible conditions. But it still could be a game where both teams lean on the run a little more.
Shipley popped off a big run at Wake Forest on the first play from scrimmage. But after a 53-yard dash, the sophomore had 51 yards on his remaining 19 carries (2.68 per rush).
Part of that may have been Wake Forest's adjustment, stacking the box and forcing Clemson to win through the air. But if Clemson and N.C. State have to lean on the ground game, will the Tigers be able to grind one out?
"When you talk about that N.C. State defense, they are aggressive, they are going to get to the ball. All 11 of them," Shipley said. "You gotta be able to make the little plays ... you're going to have to chip away. And when the opportunity presents itself to be able to bust a big one ... you gotta take it, because it's going to be rare."
It would make sense for Clemson's corners to be down on themselves after giving up six touchdowns to Sam Hartman last weekend. And it's not reassuring to know they are facing a future pro in Devin Leary this week.
But sophomore corner Nate Wiggins certainly didn't sound shaken when asked about offenses trying to attack Clemson through the air.
"I ain't ever going to have no game like that ever again," Wiggins said. "They can try, but it's not going to be the same results."
Again, the weather will determine how much both teams go to the air. But, if they do, Clemson's secondary can't continue to let receivers behind them. Leary, along with wideouts Devin Carter and Thayer Thomas, can exploit those opportunities.
Plus, Swinney wasn't revealing much regarding the status of injured secondary pieces Sheridan Jones, Malcolm Greene, and Andrew Mukuba, or edge-rusher Xavier Thomas. Everyone will have to wait until game time to see if the Tigers have reinforcements defensively.
Whatever the weather, Death Valley figures to be a hostile environment.
It's a top 10 matchup, and this is the first night game of the season with real consequences.
Uiagalelei, who said he expects Memorial Stadium to be "rockin'," wants to put on a show.
"I view it as we have an obligation to play our best game for our fans here," Uiagalelei said. "It's 85,000 people coming to our games, and you never know, one of those people, it could be their first time seeing you play. It's my obligation as a player, and everybody on this team, to go out there and play our best game for that one person."
Last year, N.C. State had a home crowd on its side. Can the Tiger faithful tip the scales in Clemson's favor? If the Tigers win, it will mark a 37th straight victory in Memorial Stadium, tying Florida State's ACC record streak from 1992-2001.
Clemson 20, North Carolina State 17